When Yank Coble, M.D., found himself 90 miles from home and in need of a hip replacement, the president-elect of the AMA called two friends to stay with him in the hospital: his former office manager and his former nurse. They stayed around the clock during his surgery and recovery.
"It was really very reassuring to have someone who was helpful," Coble says. "I'm a physician, and I know the ropes. When you're sick, when you're a patient, we're all less objective . . . If you have someone with mature judgment around, you look at things with a more realistic perspective."
Coble says he knows hospitals don't have enough nurses and that it's important to have an advocate.
The number of healthcare professionals who are bringing family members--and, increasingly, private duty medical professionals--to stay with them in the hospital is rising, says Lee Sacks, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care. Advocate is a system of eight hospitals, a home health company, extended care facilities and 5,000 physicians.
Sacks says he was surprised by Coble's revelation but adds, "I think it reflects what's going on." Medical professionals understand the stresses in the healthcare system, Sacks says. "You want somebody there to be your personal advocate and somebody who has basic knowledge of the healthcare system."
In fact, in a study released this year by the American Nurses Association, 40% of nurses say they wouldn't feel comfortable having a family member cared for in their hospital.
According to Sacks, when healthcare workers hire private medical professionals to oversee their hospital care, it's a poor endorsement of the healthcare system. "It would be like I took a pilot with me when I took a trip on United Airlines (and) having my pilot looking over their shoulder," he says.
Coble says he's not suggesting that people have to hire their own nurses. He recommends, however, that patients bring an advocate with them to doctors' appointments and for hospital stays.
Having an advocate and being involved in one's care is a wise suggestion, says Mary Foley, president of the nurses association. "It's not a shocking revelation that it's a good idea to have someone to be supportive of you in a time of vulnerability," she says, adding that's not what Coble and Sacks are talking about.
"They're talking about two standards of care. We can't have two standards of care in this country," Foley says. "We've got the money. We have to take the money and use the means we have available for every single person who accesses the healthcare system regardless of their title and income level."
The same people who are admitting that healthcare workers are increasingly bringing private nurses are the same chief executives who cut nursing staff, Foley says.
The infrastructure of hospitals and nursing staff needs to be rebuilt so nurses aren't overworked, exhausted and understaffed, she says.